A Foray into Toe-Up Socks, i

I’ve never made a toe-up sock in my life. There is quite a following for the process, and many reasons people give for making them. One is that they can try them on as they go along. Another is that they can better gauge the amount of yarn needed to complete them. I’ll buy the former, but the latter . . . not so sure. When I find myself getting short of yarn, I just make my toes in other colors. I also make ankle socks a lot, so that does not happen too often for me.

Recently, numerous books have come out about the toe-up sock. Several years ago, Anna Zilboorg hit the knitting scene with her colorful Turkish socks, Fancy Feet: Traditional Knitting Patterns of Turkey. Priscilla Gibson Roberts also published a book on their knitting and history, Ethnic Socks and Stockings: A Compendium of Eastern Design and Technique. These were the only two knitting books of which I was aware that even mentioned starting a sock from the toe.

Wendy Johnson just published her book, Socks from the Toe Up. I don’t think Western socks – the style and structure – had any toe-up information until recently. Wendy has provided the sock-knitting community a great deal of information about toe-up socks, and many of her patterns are free and very pretty – very generous of her!

Wendy, the internet and Ravelry and blogs and online videos are opening doors to Western-style, toe-up socks. Variety in toe structure, heel structure, gusset or no gusset, abound. These entries will be my own explorations of the toe-up sock.

Toe Techniques

I’m going to start out by saying that I have started about six socks in the past two weeks using various toe-up techniques. It’s been really frustrating, and I am actually surprised that I have even continued! I am not a patient person, and getting frustrated with yarn and needles in combination with written words does not bring out the best in me.

That said, let’s consider a few toe-up beginnings.

Provisional Cast-On

Bluntly, what is the point of a provisional cast on for a toe-up sock?

Nonetheless, in the endeavor to learn, I slogged away at it, crocheting up some waste-yarn, knitting into the bumps, and knit the very first toe-up.  Trying to see the bumps was difficult.  On to the second try.  I ripped out the provisional crochet, and found a video on using a crochet hook to create a provisional cast-on.  This video was a great little demo:

I did it quite easily.  I cast on the required number of stitches and proceeded to follow directions.  Then the next toe-up sock monster reared its head:  The Wrapped Stitch.

Wrapping & Turning Stitches (W&T)

I’ve never officially wrapped a stitch in my life, so trying to figure it out was not easy. Once I did, it wasn’t anything difficult; in fact, it is downright embarrassing to admit that it took me hours to try to interpret the English. The fact is, when I turn a sock heel, I am already wrapping a stitch – it just was never called this.

This is where good illustrations, and better, a video, solve the problem. I find that there are some videos which are better than others. Cat Bordhi won hands-down for the subject of a wrapped stitch. Take a look at Part One:

This explains the wrapped stitch. Okay! (I wonder, though, isn’t she unwrapping her stitch???)  No matter; I now know what a wrapped stitch is.

Now, take a look at Part II:

Her explanations are incredibly clear – her stories are rather hilarious – and what was a mystery is one no more.

Still, I see no point in a provisional cast-on for a toe of a sock, and for nearly anything else I knit.  That said, it was a great learning experience – after all, that is what all this toe-up sock knitting is supposed to be!

Turkish Cast-On

What I love about Zilboorg’s book is that she gives fairly pithy directions that are incredibly clear (at least to me) for this method of starting a sock.  I had it figured out, and was off and running in no time.  There are actually two ways of doing this type of cast on – the first one, you just wrap the yarn around both needles, and the second, the yarn is woven in and out of the needles in a figure-eight shape.  Both methods are pretty easy, but the first rows are not the finest until you are well practiced in the methods.  Once more, Cat Bordhi comes along with a very nice video describing Judy Becker’s method of doing a figure-eight cast-on.  The result is a very evenly tensioned toe beginning.

My opinion:  this is the best way to begin a toe-up sock.

How many needles to use?

I knit my socks on three needles, using the fourth for stitches.   After struggling with four needles, I actually used my brain and figured out that all I need to do, once the toe is started, is to increase the toe stitches in the opposite direction.  Thus, on the instep needle, increase one stitch in from either end.  On the heel needles, increase one stitch before the instep needle, on the second-to-the-last stitch on my first heel needle, work across on the instep, and then on the other heel needle, knit a stitch, increase, and proceed.  So far, so good.  Now I just need to choose the pattern for the sock.

This is what I have accomplished so far.  Turkish cast-on, as learned from Bordhi’s demo, and increases every other round on three needles.  I did eight stitches before beginning the knitting.  The instep needle has a marker dead center.  This way I know how many stitches I have – or should have – on the heel needles, and the instep needle is easily recalled.

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How Do I Start Brewing? Part 1

Being a brewer is always good for a few interesting questions at a barbecue or cocktail party. First, a lot of people are really amazed that it’s possible to brew one’s own beer at home. Second, there’s a vague feeling that homebrewing must be illegal or otherwise dicey. Then there are usually one or two people who are really lit up by the idea and want to learn more about how it’s done, whether it’s difficult, expensive, &c.

I don’t imagine there are many readers of a blog like this who fall into the ‘homebrewing must be impossible’ camp – if you’re reading about Ink, Yarn & Beer, it’s a good bet that you have at least some interest in making things yourself, and have already learned that practically anything is doable by a determined and resourceful home practitioner.

As to the second question, there are places in the US where homebrewing is illegal, and some smaller jurisdictions (dry counties) may prohibit it, but the majority of states have legalized homebrewing. Even Utah just recently passed a law allowing people to make their own beer at home. Apparently, there were already lots of people doing so (possibly encouraged by some of Utah’s other pecuiliar blue laws); now they can just do so legally. Even Alabama, where homebrewing is illegal, has homebrew shops, so it may be that, even if it’s illegal to brew in your area, the law is ignored or unenforced.

Of course, I can’t encourage you to break the law, but I can help you to find information about the law in your area. This site has some information about what states outlaw brewing. You should be aware, though, that web pages are frequently out of date, so it’s well worth doing a little research of your own to find out what the laws are in your area before possibly breaking them.

So, assuming you enjoy a nice craft beer and are interested in making your own, how should you start? I generally recommend to people that they read a good homebrewing book before they run out and buy equipment and ingredients. The reason for this is that homebrewing is not for everyone, and it’s better to find out you don’t like it after having spent $12.95 (or whatever) on a book than after spending a hundred bucks (or a few hundred) on gear. I have to admit a particular soft spot for Charlie Papazian’s classic homebrewing text, The Complete Joy of Home Brewing, but these days I am hearing people say they don’t like his writing style. And really, there are lots of good resources on the Internet, one of the best being John Palmer’s How To Brew, which is a free online version of his book of the same title. It’s really, really hard to beat the cost:benefit ratio of free information.

Another great way to get a feeling for the hobby is to sit in on a batch or two. If you’ve met a homebrewer at a barbecue, ask them if they would mind inviting you to their next brew day. If there’s a homebrew shop in your town, ask if they have a club with an open meeting or club brew you can come to. The overwhelming majority of homebrewers like sharing their hobby, so it’s pretty likely you’ll find someone to help you get started.

Part 2 will include information about what to look for in a starter’s kit and what you should make for your first batch. Watch this space.

Painting the Real World

One of the beauties of painting is it can be photographic in detail, or suggestive, allowing the mind and imagination to fill in the spaces. Personally, I prefer the latter. I’ve never been a realist, yet as someone who enjoys painting, I love seeing what the “real” is, and seeing the work of the “artist.”

This is a strange orchid. It lives in a pot out on the patio, grows several feet tall, and survives my neglect. I have seen this same orchid flourishing in more protected areas, lanky and straggly, in pinks, oranges and reds. Can you believe that this flower is about 5 feet tall? It really is!

The flowers themselves are rather tiny, but clustered in groups at the top of long stems. Air roots emerge periodically from the stems, and if you want more of these orchids, cut them down, stick ’em in the ground or potting soil, and off they go.

These orchids make me laugh. I just don’t expect orchids to be quite so hardy! I always think of delicate flowers, in steamy hot houses, sort of like the descriptions in that old story by Dashiell Hammett – decay, rot, humidity.

These orchids are really not elegant in the way cymbidiums are, or other more exotic specimens. Their beauty lies in the smallness of the flower, the gangliness of the stalks, the sturdy jutting of the leaves.

Here is my homage to this unnamed orchid.

WIPs and Chains

Like every knitter – or nearly every knitter – I have more on the needles in progress than off. I thought it might be fun to take pictures of WIPs and WIPs-to-Be out of handspun.

Fountain Pen Shawl

I hate to say it, but I just couldn’t get into the pattern.  So, it is now ripped out and waiting for something else.  The yarn is Malabrigo, about 800 yards of lace-weight.  Unskeining it was not fun – the ties for dyeing were not well done, and on the swift I had to weave in and out of the skein to get it onto the ballwinder.  Worth the work though, as the colors are wonderful.  I expect it will become a different shawl in the future.

Handspun / Hand-Dyed

Most likely for berets.

These yarns are two and three plies, some in tweeds.  Tweed, at least the way I created it, was fun.  All the little neps in other handspun, already dyed, get pulled out as spun, set aside, and then carded into another color.  Another way to do this is to not clean the carder of the little neps, but work them into another color.

Another Meret (now finished since the photo was taken – just needing the tidying-up!)

This one is for a friend from childhood.  Her birthday was in February.  She’ll get an early b-day present I guess!  (Hi, Claudia!)

And socks, socks, socks…

This is some commercial yarn.  I think I dyed it, not sure.  

Below, is some bare KnitPicks merino/nylon sock yarn.  My mother-in-law, Judy, and I got together to do some for her birthday last year.  I don’t believe she had ever dyed before.  It was a great afternoon birthday project.  Her yarn was much prettier than mine, but for all its gaudiness, this one I rather liked.  You can see it on the ball, and how it is pooling – I like the yellow spiraling through the purples.  Sunshine through the storm clouds.

And another sock, far too long on the needles.  Great yarn!

Future Socks (of course!)

My first purchase from Sundara.  The color was not quite what I anticipated, but I still like it a lot.  Photos are not the same as real life (as I can tell you from the ones above, as well.)  This is sock yarn, and I think a girly lace would be great.  Her packaging is just wonderful, and her label makes you smile.

And in the meantime, I have some patterns I want to post, for free and for sale, and some in the design process. Once the next week is over, I think I should be able to get to them (at last). You will be able to find them on Ravelry under my moniker of Matataki. You can download this fellow from  the “Patterns” tab at the top of this page, or using the link under “Matataki Design” on the right.  Enjoy!

The Moon in Ink Painting

In most western paintings, the moon is painted full, large and overwhelming.  In Japanese scrolls, the moon is shown in all its phases.  Waxing.  Waning.  Gibbous.  Full.  Crescent.  Quarter.  In fog.  Alone in the sky.  Through the trees.

The fact is, to paint the moon full is very simple!  Catching its other shapes and moods is not so easy.  I’ve tried to paint the moon over the years, attempting to catch a quality or mood in a few strokes. I’ll leave it to you to judge.